International Manatee Day — Experts look for help as Florida species suffers

Manatee Close Up — Courtesy: Image by Andrea Izzotti from Shutterstock

International Manatee Day is recognized around the world on Sept. 7. 

In Florida, catching a glimpse of a West Indian manatee, a mating pod, or even a group of manatees is extremely common.

The manatee has been going through a rough year, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirming that as of Aug. 27, a preliminary total of 929 manatees have been killed since the start of 2021.

The FWC notes that “most deaths occurred during colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon where the majority of seagrass has died off.” The increase in deaths is related to a lack of food for the manatees in the lagoon, leading to the declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event.

8 On Your Side has been persistent in covering the UME  and the amount of manatees fairing in the ongoing red tide issues in Tampa Bay throughout the summer.

As mentioned before, it has been an incredibly difficult year for these threatened gentle giants.

With the Unusual Mortality Event continuing throughout the state, two United States Florida representatives — Democrat Darren Soto from the 9th District and Republican Vern Buchanan — introduced legislation to upgrade the status of the West Indian manatee’s status of endangerment.

The manatee is currently classified as “threatened,” transitioned from “endangered” in 2017 because of the increasing numbers of their population.

However, throughout the event and issues with the red tide bloom in the Tampa Bay area, there have been some brighter areas.

ZooTampa’s animal care specialists have been looking over suffering manatees. The zoo is one of only four locations throughout Florida that is qualified for manatee critical care. At one point, the critical care center was full.

The Bishop Museum of Nature and Science renovated its manatee habitat to make it an even more natural environment for its manatees in second-stage rehabilitation. The purpose of doing this is so that the manatees have the opportunity to better learn about their environment before being released into the wild.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced that it is building a manatee rehabilitation center to help with the rise of injured or sick manatees, along with the crews who help rescue and rehabilitate manatees.

The loss of such a high number of manatees is very sad, but thankfully there will always be biologists, animal care staff, and volunteers to help out. 

If you see a dead or injured manatee, or a manatee in distress, do not attempt to help the animal. If you see a manatee that appears to be “beached,” do not attempt to put the animal back in the water. Report these instances to FWC at 888-404-3922 or *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone.

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